Since the track meet the Philadelphia Eagles staged in the first half of their Monday night victory against Washington, Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense has been the talk of the NFL.
But as his team prepares for a Buffalo offense that also likes to go fast, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was quick to point out the downside of such a breathless attack.
When asked this week if the Panthers would consider speeding up their offensive pace, Rivera wondered whether the positives of a hurry-up offense outweigh the negatives.
“I’m not quite sure what the real, true benefit is other than having a few more plays,” Rivera said. “People say, ‘Well, you get 75, 80 plays going faster.’ You also can go 1-2-3 and out faster and put the other team back on the field faster. So which is it?”
That was the case for the Bills last week in their 23-21 loss to New England. On five of Buffalo’s 13 possessions, the Bills gave up the ball after three plays or fewer with a turnover or a punt.
As a result, the Bills’ defense spent a lot of time on the field. The Patriots controlled the tempo, running 89 offensive plays to the Bills’ 61.
The Eagles’ 33-27 win at Washington also revealed some of the flaws in the high-octane system Kelly brought from Oregon. While Philadelphia ripped off 51 plays in the first half en route to a 33-6 lead early in the third quarter, the Eagles couldn’t maintain their productivity and the Redskins stormed back to make a game of it.
“There’s some stretches if you go out there and you go too fast and make a mistake, and all of a sudden your defense is back out there. Now your defense is getting worn down,” Rivera said. “Is that a good thing, too?”
During a 14-9 loss to Philadelphia the second week of the preseason, the Panthers’ defense struggled in the first half when both teams played their starters.
The Eagles outgained Carolina 257-162 in total yardage, held a 17-9 edge in first downs, and converted all four of their third-down situations against the Panthers’ first-team defense.
Carolina kept the score close by forcing three first-half turnovers.
The Panthers are taking steps to deal with the Bills’ fast-paced approach, but they say it’s nothing like what they experienced in Philly.
Call it Eagles Lite.
“No disrespect to them whatsoever, it’s more how good Philadelphia was at it. I don’t think we’re going to see anything close to that. I think they’re doing it better than anybody else in the league, and probably will for as long as Chip Kelly’s there,” safety Mike Mitchell said. “I think now that we’ve seen that ... I think we’re very comfortable with that uptempo style of offense and we should be able to handle it.”
At least one Panthers’ player – rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei – said the Eagles’ hurry-up attack left him sucking wind.
Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller said that’s the intended effect of the Bills’ system, as well.
“I would think it’ll wear them down physically and mentally, especially going fast,” Spiller said. “They’re trying to get their defensive call in and we’re lined up snapping the ball. So it definitely will cut down some of the communication the defense will have. That’s our objective, to keep them off balance.”
Buffalo first-year coach Doug Marrone said he studied Kelly’s Oregon offense when he was Syracuse’s coach. But Marrone said a fast-paced attack is not new to the NFL, pointing to the no-huddle offenses directed by Bills quarterback Jim Kelly and Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason in the 1980s and ’90s.
“I think people tend to forget that it’s been done before. Not only has it been done before, it’s been done with success,” Marrone said. “Both those teams were playoff teams and have gone to the Super Bowl.”
The Panthers could have difficulty changing their defensive personnel if the Bills get rolling. Carolina will have automatic calls and checks for middle linebacker Luke Kuechly to make if the defense doesn’t have time to get calls from the sideline.
“Everybody has to know what they’re doing. Everybody has to be on the same page. There can’t be miscommunication. Can’t be breakdowns in coverage,” defensive end Charles Johnson said. “We just have to get lined up and deal with whatever they have out there.”
But Rivera said the best defense for the fast-paced attack is to send the Bills back to the sideline just as quickly.
“If you want to slow them down,” Rivera said, “get them off the field.”
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